A Singing Bone from the Convent Quarter of Medieval Turku, Finland: Swedish or German Import, Baltic Influence or Variation on a Finnish Theme?
Annemies Tamboer / Riitta Rainio
In this paper we investigate and interpret a sheep metatarsal excavated in the medieval Convent Quarter of Turku, Finland, dated from between the 13th to the 16th centuries CE. Three finger holes suggest that the pipe was a wind instrument, but it lacks parts such as a window and a lip or a sharp rim that would produce sound when blown.
A reed was probably inserted in the man-made hole in the proximal end of the bone. As a reedpipe, the Turku find is similar to the läveri, or (if a horn bell was attached) to a lävikkö, both folk reed instruments from Finland for which records do not go back further than the 19th and 20th centuries. A second sheep metatarsal from Åland, Finland, with two finger holes, dating from the 11th century, may also be interpreted as a reedpipe. These two finds give evidence that reedpipes or hornpipes were played as early as the 11th century, and later in the 13th to the 16th centuries in this area of modern Finland.
The Finnish folk reed instruments läveri and lävikkö, however, were traditionally made of wood, not of bone. Was the bone reedpipe an import from abroad, an instrument crossing borders (Turku in medieval times had many inhabitants from Germany and Sweden, and had frequent
contacts with Baltic regions), or was the use of bone for the Turku reedpipe a variation on medieval Finnish instruments made of wood?
Similar archaeological instruments from Germany, Sweden and the Baltic are not known, so an interpretation as a medieval bone version of Finnish folk reedpipes is tempting, but, as sources are sparse, not conclusive.